Meet the species: an introduction to the plants of our High Atlas community nurseries

By Abdellah Aghraz, Rachid Ait Babahmad and Pommelien da Silva Cosme

10 June 2019

Over the past five years and in collaboration with our partner Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA), we have established two thriving community plant nurseries in Imegdal and Aït M’hamed. These community plant nurseries support the cultivation and enrichment planting of locally-selected endemic, useful and threatened tree crops and plants to boost wild populations and reduce harvesting pressure on these species.

The plants grown in the nurseries have all been selected in collaboration with local communities. Through yearly plant distributions, local community members are replanting these species in designated areas and reintroducing them back to the wild while enhancing rural incomes and decreasing harvesting pressure on wild populations.

We are currently cultivating 38 different species in the communities of Aït M’hamed and Imegdal. Now, let us introduce you to …

Origanum compactum Benth. [Photo by I. Tekguc]

Origanum compactum Benth. or oregano, locally known as “Zaatar”, is an important aromatic and medicinal plant in Morocco. It is used in local cuisine and has a strong, warm flavour. Because of its many health benefits, it is also used as a traditional medicine. From helping fight bacteria to reducing inflammation, oregano is one beautiful and powerful plant.

Santolina chamaecyparissus L. [Photo by I. Tekguc]

Santolina chamaecyparissus L. or cotton lavender is a beautiful evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region. It has finely-cut grey leaves and in summer it produces bright yellow composite flowerheads. Once established, this plant can tolerate drought and poor soils. The flowers and leaves can be used to remove intestinal parasites and some people also hang its branches in their wardrobes to repel insects such as moths. In can also be used in cosmetics as a tonic.

Rosmarinus officinalis L. [Photo by P. da Silva Cosme]

Rosmarinus officinalis L. or rosemary is a well known aromatic species that is cultivated around the world. Rosemary has an important economic value and it can be considered as one of the most important plants in terms of essential oil applications, due to its healing properties. It is used as a natural antibiotic and to treat respiratory diseases and dizziness, amongst other uses. The leaves and light purple flowers are harvested during spring and summer after which they are dried in a dark and dry space. Rosemary  is commonly used as a condiment, dry spice and food preservative.

Thymus saturejoides Coss. [Photo by I. Tekguc]

Thymus saturejoides Coss. or Moroccan wild thyme is an endangered and endemic medicinal plant of Morocco and Algeria that is used as a culinary herb. It has lovely pink flowers and is usually harvested from May to July. The leaves are used in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory to treat bronchitis, coughs and rheumatism. Its essential oil contains strong antibacterial and antioxidant effects.

Lavandula officinalis Chaix, also known as Lavandula angustifolia Mill. [Photo by I. Tekguc]

Lavandula angustifolia Mill. or lavender can be found in dry areas and sun exposed soils in the Mediterranean basin. Lavender is a very well known aromatic plant and has purple flowers and a distinctive scent. It it said lavender helps to release stress and that in ancient times it was traditionally used as a relaxing herb in bath water. Lavender has many healing properties and its essential oil can be used to treat insect bites, irritated skin, burns, headaches and rheumatism. People also use lavender sachets to perfume linen, ward off insects and to scent closed environments such as closets.

Thymus broussonetii Boiss. [Photo by P. da Silva Cosme]

Thymus broussonetii Boiss. is an endemic aromatic plant to Morocco that belongs to the Lamiaceae family and is locally known as “Za’atar Essaouiri“. You can identify this plant by its pleasant smell and vibrant purple flowers. This species has different culinary, aromatic and medicinal uses. It is used to treat diarrhea, fever, coughs, infections and wounds.

Salvia officinalis L. [Photo by I. Tekguc]

Salvia officinalis L. or common sage is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae and a native species to the Mediterranean region. Its scientific name, Salvia, means “to be in good health”, “to save”, or “salvation” while officinalis is an old reference to an herb store, pharmacy, or drugstore. Sage can be cultivated for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It is known to have antiseptic qualities good for sore throats and bad digestion and it can also be used to treat diarrhea, colds and snake-bites. Common sage blooms in early summer and its bluish purple flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies


The GDF-MBLA community plant nurseries are part of our High Atlas Cultural Landscape programme, aimed at maintaining the unique flora and ecosystems of the High Atlas whilst securing sustainable livelihoods and wellbeing for the Amazigh communities that manage them.